A year on, Bangladesh election committee yet to earn trust

The last two general elections were not held in a free or fair manner and that eroded the general public's faith in ECs, said Badiul Alam Majumdar.

Mohiuddin Alamgir

Mohiuddin Alamgir

The Daily Star


February 27, 2023

DHAKA – Since its formation a year ago, the new Election Commission has largely failed to gain the opposition parties’ trust, said political analysts.

When Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal in September unveiled a work plan for the next national election, he said gaining the political parties’ confidence was a major challenge.

But despite opposition from major political parties like the BNP and the Jatiya Party, the EC in August announced that Electronic Voting Machines would be used in up to 150 constituencies.

However, the government in January shelved a plan to buy two lakh EVMs that would be needed to use in 150 constituencies.

The last two general elections were not held in a free or fair manner, and that eroded the general public’s faith in ECs, said Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shusashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan).

The current EC has yet to do anything that would change people’s perception, he said, adding that the EC’s first year was marred by controversies.

In 2014 national polls, 153 of the 300 MPs were elected unopposed, and in 2018, widespread ballot box stuffing was reported the night before the election day. The commissions that held the polls were widely criticised for these matters.

The current EC took office on February 27, 2022.

The next day, Chief Election Commissioner Awal urged political parties to stay in the election race.

However, the current election commissioners on several occasions said it was not their job to ensure all parties participated in polls.

Since its formation, the EC’s discussions on the preparation of an election roadmap and the use of EVMs were shunned by the BNP and several other political parties.

BNP Standing Committee Member Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain said, “Our decision is that we will not participate in an election under the current government. We were not part of the process in which this Election Commission was formed, had not given them recognition, and had not taken part in any activities of the commission. We have not changed our stance and that is why we did not join the talks.”

It is impossible for the EC to hold a free and fair election under the incumbent government, he added.

In June, the EC asked Awami League MP AKM Bahauddin Bahar of Cumilla-6 to leave the constituency for allegedly violating the electoral code of conduct by joining the campaign trail of an individual running for mayor.

Days later, Awal said Bahar was not asked, but merely requested to leave Cumilla ahead of the city corporation polls.

In May, Election Commissioner Anisur Rahman told an event in Madaripur that the CEC would give $10 million to anyone who could find EVMs’ faults.

A few days later, CEC Awal denied making any such offer.

At a meeting among deputy commissioners and superintendents of police in October, there was a commotion after Anisur talked about allegations that many officers were biassed, and they did not properly spend the government funds.

Contacted, Election Commissioner Brig Gen (Retd) Ahsan Habib Khan said, “The controversies that are being talked about are no big deal. In some cases, misunderstandings led to controversies.”

The EC earned praise from many after suspending Gaibandha-5 by-polls in October amid numerous reports of irregularities, said election expert Abdul Alim, adding that the way it held the Cumilla city polls was also praiseworthy.

“But the six recent by-elections were marked by poor turnout of voters,” he said.

Meanwhile, CEC Awal yesterday again urged the major political parties to reach a consensus so that a participatory and acceptable election could be held.

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